Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Troll tales November 23, 2012

Norway native Steinar Karlsen carved this troll at the 25th annual 2002 Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead.

EVER SINCE I WAS a little girl, trolls have held a special fascination for me.

That curiosity and, yes, even a tinge of fear, relate to the storybook, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In that Norwegian folk tale, three different-sized goats attempt to cross a bridge under which lurks a hungry troll. The smallest goat tricks the troll into waiting for the middle-sized goat which tricks the troll into waiting for the biggest goat which then bucks the troll into the river.

Can you understand how this might both frighten and empower?

This bridge, near Hammond in southeastern Minnesota, is similar in style to the Minnesota River “troll bridge” of my youth. The “troll bridge” along Minnesota Highway 19 near Morton was replaced by a more modern bridge. But the old one, last I traveled that section of roadway, still stands nearby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, 2010.)

I always thought of this goat-trolling troll whenever my father steered the family car across the Minnesota River bridge near Morton on our annual trip to “the Cities” to visit relatives. My anxiety level rose ever so slightly as the car curved down Minnesota Highway 19 toward the bridge.

In the back seat, my four siblings and I (the youngest sat up front) and grandpa, packed shoulder to shoulder, curled our fingers into clenched fists, prepared to take on that troll—by pounding with determined ferocity on the interior roof of the car.

My other childhood troll encounter occurred when I turned nine and celebrated my one and only birthday party ever with classmates. One friend gifted me with a wild, pink-haired troll which stood a mere inch or so tall. She, the troll, not the friend, was also a piece of jewelry with a pin attached.

I treasured that troll, still do, because trolls were popular then and I had none. Suddenly, I was just like my classmates; I owned a troll, albeit a teeny one.

A side shot of the two trolls carved by Steinar Karlsen and displayed at the Hjemkomst Center. Since 1990, this artist has created 400-plus life-sized human sculptures and hundreds of animals, birds and sea life.

Imagine how thrilled I was decades later when my girls were preschool and early elementary ages and trolls were back in vogue. I bought them doll-sized trolls to cuddle and families of mini trolls. The bright-haired ogres lined the window in their toy room, their mops of hair bleaching in the morning sun.

Trolls evoke such a mix of memories for me. How about you?

BONUS PHOTOS, just because I have no other category into which to slot these two Hjemkomst Center images, but wanted to share them:

A beautiful and historic mosaic graces a wall in the entry to the Hjemkomst Center.

Next to that troll bench carved by Steinar Karlsen are these flags hung from the balcony railing overlooking an atrium. I couldn’t find any info as to the reason these specific flags are there.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A roadside oddity: the Kasota Zoo October 26, 2010

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WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I loved the story about The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Do you remember that tale of the three goats planning to cross a bridge, but first encountering a hungry troll?

The goats, beginning with the smallest, tricked the troll into waiting for the next, and bigger, goat. The third, and largest, goat was so big that he easily tossed the troll into oblivion and safely crossed the bridge.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed that tale so much. Maybe because I owned that storybook and my mom read and reread the words until I had them memorized. Or maybe I just appreciated that three goats could outsmart a mean old troll.

Anyway, because of that childhood literary introduction to goats, I’ve always rather enjoyed these mischievous animals. I find them humorous and cute and naughty all at the same time.

So, when I saw a bunch of goats fenced in at the Kasota Zoo several weeks ago, I had to investigate. Believe me, this is unlike any zoo you’ve ever seen. Propped pallets and a hodge podge of fences corral the 32 pygmy goats at this roadside oddity on the southern edge of Kasota.

 

 

The Kasota Zoo, home to 32 pygmy goats.

 

 

The goats have plenty of space to roam at the Kasota Zoo.

 

Toss in rocks and old tires, a bunch of shacks (some covered with tarps) and a few American flags and you have, by far, the strangest, weirdest, oddest, most unusual zoo I have ever visited.

 

 

American flag decor adds a patriotic flair to this down-home zoo.

 

I really question whether this even qualifies as a zoo given I paid no admission and saw no pathways that would take me beyond standing next to the fence watching the goats.

That’s when zookeeper Eugene joined me. I have no idea where he appeared from, but, all of a sudden, there he was. His co-zookeeper, girlfriend Patty, was hunkered down in a lawn chair on the zoo driveway.

I didn’t learn too much from Eugene. He’s not the most talkative fellow. But you can tell he genuinely cares for these goats, which are rotund enough to have eaten a troll or two. His zoo has been here 30-plus years, he says.

He grew up with goats; his dad had milk goats.

But Eugene and Patty raise and care for pygmy goats, which they’ll sell to anyone who wants one.

“Do you have names for all of them?” I ask Eugene.

“That one’s Number 8,” he says, pointing, while I struggle to keep from laughing that a goat would be named Number 8.

But then he picks out Spot and Chucky. That’s more like it, I think—name-names for these inquisitive creatures that have scooted up to the fence to see me.

 

 

Eugene and Patty have named all their goats, although I can't tell you the name of this one.

 

I don’t spend much more time at the Kasota Zoo, just enough for Eugene to tell me that he has a visual impairment and that Patty is legally blind.

 

 

Eugene, the zookeeper at the Kasota Zoo, wears thick glasses, but still struggles to see.

 

I don’t mention a word about trolls to these zookeepers. Not a single word.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling